English Literature Coursework Prayer Before Birth, The Tyger, and Half-past Two are poems which explore encounters between the speaker, or a character, and a force that is greater than he is. How do the three poets develop and contemplate this experience? Prayer before Birth, The Tyger and Half-past Two are three poems which explore an encounter between the character and a force much greater than he is.
The first, by Louis MacNeice, uses imagery of religion and innocence to present God as a higher power acting above us, whilst The Tyger, by William Blake, describes the creation of the tiger and who its creator might be, again showing God as immensely powerful, but in this case he is shown as intimidating and frightening. Half-past Two, by U. A. Fanthorpe, portrays a young child, ignorant of the adult measurement of time, and his experience as he “escaped into the clockless land for ever”; this poem introduces a different force acting upon the character: time, and the different manners in which we conceive it.
Louis MacNeice presents God as an important force with power over the speaker; he does this by making use of liturgical language throughout his poem. Terms such as “Prayer”, “sin”, “forgive me”, “console me” or “let not” emphasize this. The way the child asks someone to “hear”, “provide”, “console” him, as well as the title “Prayer Before Birth”, implies that he is praying to God to create a better world for him to live in before he is born, which adds to the biblical language.
Another line which reinforces that the child wants to speak to God is “Let not […] who thinks he is God come near me”: this shows that the child wants to see God and no one else. Another powerful force the poet develops throughout is that of society and its leaders. The chid begs not to be born into a world which is devoid of love, compassion and remorse, full of people prepared to “make [him] a stone”, “make [him] a cog in a machine, a thing with / one face, a thing”, or “dissipate [his] entirety”.
This is underlined with the confused, panicky state of mind the character is in, which is shown by “hither and / thither or hither and thither”, and also the rhythm of the poem: upbeat and desperate, with lines containing alliterations such as “strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me”. This latter phrase particularly emphasizes the unnerved disposition of the character with the opposition of the strong [d] sound, which reinforces the content+, and the soft, luring [l].
By the end, the child is so desperate not to be born into such a world, he makes a firm decision that if his wishes are not possible then “Otherwise kill me”. The poem was written during World War II, during which countless men were sent to their death, thus MacNeice also condemns leaders of men who try to control the world and politicians who force others to kill in their name. This is shown when the infant says “they murder by the means of my / hands”, “they live me”, “those who would freeze my / humanity” or “dragoon me into a lethal automaton”.
This poignant and impressive language goes so far that the baby asks for forgiveness before he is born. This shows that the greater force is not yet acting upon him, but will be in the near future, a fact which is reinforced by the structure of the poem, eight stanzas, which represent eight of the nine months of pregnancy, so as to show that the child is about to enter the world. The way by which MacNeice represents the external force as one which will act in the future is the opposite of D. H.
Lawrence in Piano, who shows the character desiring a force which is no longer accessible: “I weep like a child for the past”. In The Tyger, William Blake uses religious language to describe the creation and the creator of the tiger such as “Lamb”, “heaven” and “skies”: the liturgical language is comparable to Louis MacNeice, but in Prayer Before Birth, God is shown as the character’s only hope in a world of despair, whereas Blake uses him to inspire awe, dread and terror. Thus, the tiger is shown as an embodiment of God’s power in creation: it is terrifying in its beauty, vitality, strength and “fearful symmetry”.
Blake also uses the image of god as a blacksmith forging and creating the spirit, body and brain of the tiger. He uses phrases such as “What the hammer? ”, “in what furnace was thy brain? ” and “anvil” to paint this image. This brings up the idea of someone else, an external force, creating our brain, what we use to control ourselves, and therefore controlling us. Such an idea reminds us of Prayer Before Birth and the child not wishing to be controlled by society or by other men.
The idea of an unstoppable force creating, forming us and our world is also present in Ted Hughes’ ‘Wind’, which presents the weather as a forger of the landscape with phrases such as “woods crashing through darkness”, “the hills had new places”, “the fields quivering”. These expressions show how the storm has deformed and recreated the land, thus bringing back the idea of a peripheral overwhelming power lurking over us. In both these poems a dark, heavy atmosphere is present, created by the subjects of death, destruction and terror with the use of vocabulary such as “burning”, “deadly”, “blood-baths”, “murder” or “kill”.
This morbid language creates in both texts a fear of unknown forces acting upon the speaker. However, the two poems present different views of this force; in Prayer Before Birth, the child is frightened of the world and what lies outside waiting for him; his fear is much more accentuated as a dark, anxious terror whereas in The Tyger the narrator is scared of the mysterious God and his nature, which conveys a more inexplicable awe, because what kind of God would create such a creature as the tiger? Is it possible that “he who made the Lamb” made the tiger? If so, what does this say about God?
Throughout the text, many questions are asked but all are left unanswered which fills the speaker and therefore the reader with doubt and fear of this unknown power acting upon him, and the way that the first and last stanza are almost identical create an effect of the reader going around in circles, of an endless riddle with no definitive answer. Half-past Two presents a young child who is put in detention by his teacher until half-past two. The latter then forgets that the infant cannot read the clock, which releases him into a world without time, and without the constraints of it.
There is much irony and ambiguity in the poem, for instance the fact that detention, normally a captive environment, sets him free into his world “Where time hides tick-less waiting to be born. ”. This poem introduces two different encounters of the character with a force greater than he is: the first is the teacher, who has control over him, whilst the second, arguably more important, is time, which he discovers to be infinite and abstract up until the point when the teacher returns and “slotted him back into schooltime”.
The voice of the poem, combined with the fact that he is unable to remember why he is being punished – “(I forget what it was)” – introduce the innocence present in the poem. The voice uses various poetical devices such as alliteration (“time hides tick-less”), or onomatopoeiae such as “click” or “tick” to convey the way the child sees and understands time. This innocence is similar to the other two texts, for instance Prayer Before Birth portrays an unborn therefore still pure infant, and The Tyger uses imagery of “the Lamb” as an innocent symbol.
However all three poems use this innocence to contrast and accentuate the higher power which lies above them, controlling and dominating the characters. Thus the latter text shows God as a blacksmith, a creator, to show his control over the power of the tiger while the former depicts the evil world, its occupants and its leaders as an important force. Half-past Two exposes time as an uncontrollable and abstract force which dominates our lives. The onomatopoeiae in this poem are but a small part of the way Fanthorpe uses all the character’s senses to describe the classroom.
Hence, the poet employs a particular oxymoron which conveys great meaning: “the silent noise”. This demonstrates how time is all around us, silent yet governing, invisible yet ever-present. John Keats shows similar use of the sense of sound in his On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer with phrases such as “speak out loud and bold” or “Silent, upon a peak in Darien”. Keats and Fanthorpe successfully draw on the senses of the characters to depict the world around them. U. A.
Fanthorpe makes use of particular rhythmic effects to create a child-like tone to the poem. The eighth stanza has the repetition of “into” at the start of every line, which produces a static quality; this is then broken by “And then” at the beginning of the next stanza. This contrast shows the irregular tone to be childish; Fanthorpe then pursues this with a similar presentation of the world: there is no good and no evil. MacNeice and Blake also use the tone of their poem to present a different view of the world.
The former uses vocabulary such as “blood-sucking”, “traitors”, or “my children curse me” to create a fear and a darkness which lasts throughout the poem, this distress portrays a world of built-in corruption and dishonesty. On the other hand, William Blake uses a tone of fascination and awe with vocabulary like “immortal hand”, “burning bright” or “heaven”; he thus generates another view of the world, different to the other two poems: compared to the strength and the power of the tiger, the rest of the world is innocent and pure.
The themes of these poems vary from the purity of an unborn child who fears the outside world, to the tremendous power of a wild animal and the God who created it, to the abstract measurement of time and how our vision of it changes as we age. Despite the great variety of ideas used by the authors, all three depict meetings of characters with a greater force in which their future is sourced; they all show that we are not completely in control of ourselves and our lives, but that we are manipulated to think, and act, by external influences.